How to grow a successful community

Fab Giovanetti
“The secret of leadership is simple: Do what you believe in. Paint a picture of the future. Go there. People will follow.” — Seth Godin, Tribes

I started my company over six years ago. Bringing people together is what people know me for. Yet creating a community goes beyond the definition of the word.

When looking into community as a definition in any generic dictionary, buzzwords such as common interests and common attitudes are pretty much a constant. Personally, I do believe that a community is much more than that.

The best definition of what I see as a community comes from Seth Godin’s Tribes, and it includes building blocks like a group of people, a shared cause, a leader, and a story.

In order to build a community, you need a purpose and a clear mission linked to a story, and in order to share a story, you need to have a community around you.

Whether you create your own or you find one — this is a topic we’ll discuss later in this article — a shared purpose is key. by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash
“We cannot live only for ourselves. A thousand fibers connect us with our fellow men.” — Herman Melville

Communities have always been with us, but with technology, the number of communities cropping up is exploding. It’s important to realise you do not need to create a Facebook group, a series of events, a forum, or an elaborate website to give your community the space to grow.

However, a community is something powerful, and it’s what you need to grow your influence. Remember, nine times out of ten, they will come to you organically. All you need is a place for them to interact, discuss, and grow.

Social media and the wonders of the online world have allowed something that at the times when communities were mainly gathering in a physical space (think about any major religious or geographical community) was not possible.

It has moved the communication from vertical (as in, between you, the leader, and the individual members) into horizontal communication, as in communication between members.

Once you see how you are facilitating a conversation between others, you quickly realise that the community is as much about you as it is about the relationships between people who make the community itself. This is where social media has allowed us to really come together and facilitate introductions — facilitating collaborations between others.

Starting a Community

“The greatness of a community is most accurately measured by the compassionate actions of its members.” — Coretta Scott King

When it comes to starting vs. finding a community, I do find that most people tend to find a community to belong to before starting their own. Some people get so invested in the community they join they may decide to support it actively by representing it, alongside creating their own.

Your website, blogs, and social accounts are not just there for you to share stories and your own mission but also to provide the room and the tools for the community to communicate, share ideas, and network. How actively you manage and coordinate that is objectively up to you and will not necessarily impact the way the community grows.

Let’s say you are not interested in hosting meetups or creating a private group of people to discuss a specific topic linked to your purpose. There are so many other ways you can facilitate community interaction. Here are a few examples, just to put things into perspective:

  • Twitter chats
  • Instagram Live
  • Webinars
  • Facebook Live
  • Collaborative articles
  • Interviews
  • Speaking at an event

A lot of these examples do facilitate conversation and growth by allowing people to actively interact with you and potentially with other people involved in the action.

You can bring members closer together by facilitating communication and tightening their common bonds. You can do this by transforming a shared interest into one passionate goal, and by providing a platform for members to easily connect with each other.

Once again, not rocket science — just the way the online world is shaping itself.

By finding a bigger and wider community, you can start a conversation with the people who follow your journey to assess how they’d like to interact with you (online? offline? on a specific platform?) and, in the meanwhile, learn from other members of that existing community, as well as finding new people to connect with.

I believe that in order to start your own community, you need to find others you’re willing to belong to and participate in.

Finding Your Tribe by Timon Studler on Unsplash

This is not an exact science. However, years ago Kevin Kelly brilliantly put a rounded number to it in his extensively quoted article 1,000 True Fans.

As Kelly mentions in his article,

“A true fan happens to be a member of the community who cares deeply about you and your work.”

These are the customers who will repeatedly buy from you, the followers that will interact with your content, the audience taking action every time you ask them to.

I can hear you saying, wrinkling your nose and narrowing your eyes: “1,000? Is this enough, Fab?” In a world where millions of people can read your captions, like your pictures, and watch your daily life broadcast online, are we sure 1,000 is still a relevant number?

Yes, 1,000 is all you need. This is the number of people you need to support you to make a living, to reach more people, to be better. It’s enough because this is what you need to create a community.

That bold and beautiful purpose that you shaped, let it be what drives your tribe to higher heights: It shapes your community values and ideas, allowing others to relate to them and want to spread them.

In a previous article, I shared the importance of ideas being tattoo-worthy. I used the example of Harley Davidson and how the company has built up a huge community of loyal followers over the course of its more than 100-year existence.

This is exactly what I mean when I talk about your mission shaping the community. For Harley Davidson’s customers, a Harley isn’t just a motorcycle, but a symbol so important to them that they’re willing to wait several months for a bike they’ve ordered — and, in the meantime, get the company’s logo tattooed on their arms.

A common purpose simply allows people to be directly engaged in the movement by scratching an itch that hasn’t been sufficiently scratched yet. This is what turns members of a community into driven believers instead of just followers — and has them beat the social media drum for you.

Establish Yourself as a Leader

“Leaders instill in their people a hope for success and a belief in themselves. Positive leaders empower people to accomplish their goals.” — Unknown

A leader steps right into this discomfort zone and starts to organise so people will follow them.

It’s interesting how we have this idea of leaders as people who lead — it’s in the word itself, and therefore they are there to be somewhat looked up to.

The best leaders are actually the ones able to lead movements by empowering the members of their community to communicate. They are the ones establishing the foundation for people to make connections, as opposed to commanding people to follow them.

Nevertheless, we are taught that people buy into an idea. I’d like to challenge that by actually saying that, in fairness, people buy from people.

Coming back to our building blocks of creating a community, there are three things leaders can actively do to nurture their community:

  • Take the shared passion and mission and turn them into actionable goals for the community
  • Leverage current members to grow and expand the impact of the community
  • Provide tools and ways to allow members to communicate and collaborate

By leading, you are essentially creating something worth talking and spreading the word about, just as you would do with your message. The community itself becomes a product of your influence, as word-of-mouth grows the relevance of the community itself as much as your mission.

People in leadership positions who want to get others to take action always begin by explaining why something has to be done — also known as their mission. That way, they create a sense of belonging that makes others take action.

This is where peer pressure comes in. In addition to strong ties such as close friends, social spheres also comprise weak ties, meaning acquaintances rather than friends. The online world is made out of acquaintances, especially thanks to the way we feel that we know people we can only see through a screen.

People often ask me how sharing your life online can attract so many people, regardless of how well they know you. This is because your close friends are not the most powerful advocates. It’s mostly via weak ties that peer pressure is exerted. When a person’s friends and acquaintances support an idea or a mission, it’s hard to opt out. In the same way, when someone you admire is part of a community, you are more likely to be wanting to join it.

In order to lead, you must be able to inspire action within a community.

The way people tend to be within a certain environment is inherently passive — no worries, social media is filling our time — but occasionally, we do feel prompted to be active in our behaviours.

By being the good leader of a community, you’ll be the one inspiring the action you want people to take in order to grow within the community. From moderating communication to inspiring debate, a good leader is the one who is a champion of accountability and inspiration.

This also means, if you want to read between the lines, that being a leader is a lot of work. I mean, a lot.

It’s also important to remember that, depending on the kind of community you’re gathering, it’s hard to micromanage the members who will be joining the community in the first place.

Leverage Your Loyal Advocates

“A good objective of leadership is to help those who are doing poorly to do well and to help those who are doing well to do even better.” — Jim Rohn

Leaders in the workplace are incredibly aware of the people they bring into their space.

In the book The Ideal Team Player, Patrick Lencioni clearly outlines some great characteristics of team players who can positively affect the team on the whole.

“Aspects of good team players include hunger to go above and beyond, the social smarts to interact positively with a group and the humility to let go of your ego for the team’s common good.” — Patrick Lencioni

When looking to scale a wider community, it’s hard to veto every single member on the basis of those aspects. However, I always recommend finding a selected number of members who you think can bring those traits to the community at large. These are going to be your ambassadors, your vocal advocates.

In an ideal scenario, the community’s goals will transcend each member’s personal success, to make sure the overall team is happy, functional, and supportive.

Once again, that’s something that sounds so simple and obvious, but it makes such a difference in the way the community is run. Reminding your community of the bigger picture and the mission will make them truly invested in what the community stands for.

When talking about the concept of dysfunctional teams, Lencioni highlights some key traits that can disrupt the overall harmony of the team.

Lack of accountability is one of them. And it’s not just the accountability we discussed before but also the inability to call individual members out for mistakes, or lack of trust in the community itself and its ability to support the members towards the main goal.

By creating a safe environment that encourages healthy debate and questioning, the community will be able to take collective decisions to facilitate the growth of the community as a whole.

When looking at asking for help and support from the community to facilitate growth and expansion, I always recommend coming back to those selected members, those ambassadors who are active, engaged, and clearly represent the community as a whole.

Ideal ambassadors are humble: A humble person will be quick to point out the contributions that other members make and define success collectively, strengthening the community feeling. Ideal ambassadors are also hungry; these people are always in search of more: more achievement, more learning, and more responsibility. These types of people do way more than what is expected because they’re driven and passionate about the community and the message behind it.

The truth is, the leader is facilitating the community to run itself and foster new leaders in the making.

It’s a beautiful cycle that is almost as rewarding as the creation of the community itself.

Case Study: Bring a Community to Life With Crossfit

A great example of a community is CrossFit.

It all started in 1995. Greg Glassman, now known as The Coach, established a gym in Santa Cruz while also training the Santa Cruz Police Department.

As the work began to pile up, he decided to introduce group sessions, finding that this way, he could still offer enough individual attention to each client to ensure safe and effective training.

He then started the website where fitness lovers could connect and exchange programs and advice as well as follow the joint program devised by Glassman.

This was a way for Glassman to give back to the community. He understood how to lead a community by telling stories and giving people the possibility to connect together via the website.

CrossFit was formally established in 2000. The company’s first affiliate was CrossFit North in Seattle. By 2005, there were 13 affiliates. By 2012, there were 3,400 affiliates worldwide. CrossFit certification courses are now available worldwide, and Crossfit gyms are opening up all over.

In 2018, 2,500 new affiliates registered with CrossFit; 820 were in the United States (32.8%), 1,680 were opened internationally. And today, for the first time in CrossFit’s history, there are more gyms located outside the United States than inside. The annual Crossfit Games are now broadcast worldwide, and thousands of athletes compete for the title of The Fittest of Earth.

It all started with a shared idea. Crossfit encourages its members to be the strongest advocates of the movement and the message, so much so that many people do not even know who Glassman is.

A truly successful community is born when the community itself becomes more impactful than its leader and advocates set off to spread the community beyond its online presence.


“If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” — African Proverb

To recap, what are the building blocks of a community, the ones that you should have in order to nurture your very own?

  • A leader (that’s you, that is)
  • A strong message to share
  • A group of people to share this message to

What makes a community great?

  • 1,000 loyal fans
  • A clear story
  • Active ambassadors
  • An accountability schedule

I built my first online community (which turned out to become my full-time business) six years ago. Seeing my members grow, develop, and learn has been the most fulfilling part of that journey.

Comments / 0

Published by

Award-winning marketer supporting people with working smarter, not harder, and grow successful businesses online.


More from Fab Giovanetti

Comments / 0